– Friends, Fellowship and Fighting –It’s always struck me as odd, conceptually. Of course being as close to this world as I am, the shock has somewhat worn off by now – but the concept that some of the strongest bonds you can possibly form with your fellow man come from those whom you practice punching, kicking, throwing and strangling? While a BJJ guy myself, the same is true for MMA, boxing, Muay Thai and wrestling to name but a few. It’s an intriguing contrast.
To stack the deck further against this, friendships are often built on similar backgrounds, shared experiences or shared values. However, from my own BJJ experiences, I have formed close bonds with people from vastly different cultures and upbringings.
BJJ Breaking Down Barriers
Forming friendships with mothers almost 30 years my senior. With the strictly religious and even with people only speak a few words of English! The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu mats, like the boxing ring, wrestling mats or MMA cage. Has proved strong enough to break down barriers that society in almost every other area has been unable to do.
On the BJJ mats, men train with women, the Religious train with Atheists, big city executives train with cab drivers – and none of that matters. When you walk through the doors, who you are outside of that gym becomes irrelevant, and that’s a beautiful surprise to anyone away from the BJJ or MMA worlds.
We Lucky Few
Peter McHugh, a blackbelt under the legendary MMA fighter and BJJ standout Ricardo Almeida wrote an article on his gym’s website entitled “We Lucky Few” where he described a friendship with teammate Chris Matakas that will resonate with anyone who has ever been around the MMA or BJJ world.
The interesting thing is this: I had never known Chris in any other setting. We didn’t go to high school together, we didn’t go to bars and socialize, we didn’t watch football together on Sundays. Our friendship at that point was based solely on our interactions at the academy, yet he was already one of my dearest friends.
Some of the most emotionally charged storylines in the history of MMA have centered around defending your teammates. Ken Shamrock’s feud with Tito Ortiz, one of the most important narratives in the early days of the UFC. Was born from Ken’s anger following Ortiz’s disrespect of Shamrock’s Lion’s Den teammate Guy Mezger.
The entire Cody Garbrandt – TJ Dillashaw feud has been based on a perceived slight from TJ to Garbrandt’s Team Alpha Male teammates and mentor Urijah Faber. Ricardo Liborio’s charged statement after the Colby Covington situation that has made waves at American Top Team. And in the BJJ world, the Marcelo Garcia – Dillon Danis drama can also be filed in this category.
Where Does This Stem From?
These disciplines by their very nature are built upon some core principles. Learning, listening, respect, leaving your ego at the door. Whether you have these kinds of character traits already. Or whether you pick them up after some experience inside your gym or dojo. They are almost-uniform across the globe. We’re a tribal species, and the desire to be a good team mate and training partner for your MMA buddies cannot help but manifest.
From an MMA and BJJ standpoint, experience wins out over any of your natural attributes. No matter how strong or fast you may be, make a mistake and you’re going to get caught in a submission or clipped with that shot.
However the beautiful thing about having teammates, immediately after being caught in said submission or clipped with said shot. They will immediately teach you how to ensure that doesn’t happen again (or in my case, they teach me how to ensure that doesn’t happen again several times before it finally doesn’t happen again).
The Path to Self-Improvement
One of the things you learn very early on in your MMA or BJJ experience. Is that the people that are trying to strangle you or prevent you strangling them, are not competition. There is no ‘Me vs You’ there are people who are on the same journey as you. People who are there to help you experience your hobby. Help you learn and improve yourself as a martial artist and a human being. And know you are there to do the same for them.
The constant learning, the ups, and downs, the highs, and lows. Your experiences throughout your journey in MMA, BJJ or whichever martial art you train shape you as a person. Having your training partners there to pick you up after a difficult training session or having them there to congratulate you on euphoric moments such as competition wins or belt promotions.
These are moments that construct the very core of your character. It is never anything but a privilege to share these moments with your brothers and sisters. It goes beyond camaraderie, it’s fellowship, friendship, and family.